Monday, March 15, 2010

Albania Marks Second Deadly Blast Anniversary

Tirana | 15 March 2010 |
The army depot blast in Gerdec
The army depot blast in Gerdec
The Socialist opposition and relatives of victims marked on Monday the second anniversary of a deadly blast in the village of Gerdec, only ten kilometres outside the capital Tirana.

The explosion on March 15, 2008, killed 26 people, wounded over 300 and left thousands of others homeless.

Speaking at the base of the crater created by the explosion of more than 700 tones of dynamite, Socialist MP Namik Dokle claimed that those responsible for the tragedy were still at large and in politics.

“That crater is not only a crater of pain but also a crater that symbolises those who created this tragedy trying to make profit from the lives of people,” said Dokle.

Twenty-nine people have been indicted over the explosion, among them former senior officials of the Defence Ministry. The charges range from abuse of power to murder.

The indictees include former Army Chief of Staff Luan Hoxha, General Shpetim Spahiu and General Zija Bahja. All have denied any wrongdoing.

Among the officials indicted is Fatmir Mediu, current minister of the environment and the leader of the Republican Party. The indictment charges Mediu with abuse of power related to his role as defense minister in the previous government of Prime Minister Sali Berisha, which was in power at the time of the explosion.

However, on September 15, 2009, the Supreme Court suspended the criminal case against Mediu just hours after he was sworn in as minister in the new government.

The judicial panel accepted his lawyers' request that the case be suspended. Mediu's defence team argued that their client again enjoyed parliamentary immunity after having secured a seat in parliament in the June 28, 2009 parliamentary elections as leader of the Republican Party.

Mediu’s party won only one seat in parliament, securing little more than one per cent of the popular vote.

The prosecutor contested the request but the Supreme Court panel, headed by Justice Besnik Ymeri, ruled in favour of Mediu.

Estimates published by the Albanian government say the explosion caused more than €20 million in damage to the surrounding area. According to the emergency services, 400 houses were totally destroyed; 188 were severely damaged; 200 sustained major damage; and 1,600 others were slightly damaged.

The explosions began when workers were moving stocks of old Chinese and Soviet shells stored at the base, a central collection point for the arsenal amassed by the communist-era dictatorship of Enver Hoxha.

Albania had been trying for years to dismantle the obsolete arsenal, which was one of the conditions for the country’s successful entry into NATO.

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